Donald Trump has, without a doubt, been a dominant force in the Republican debates — a pattern that will almost certainly continue with tonight's event in Houston.
Trump always gets lots of airtime. But he also has a specific way of speaking that makes him such a compelling participant — something I figured out after I wrote a computer program to pull out every single word he's said, so far, in debates.
I noticed a trend after reading through his words a few times. Trump's skill as a debater is breaking down any issue into three steps: the problem, his version of how we got there, and his solution.
The "how we got there" narratives often include characters who can take blame — most often immigrants and establishment politicians.
And this makes it seems like he's telling you what the media and establishment politicians are hiding; it gives him the "tells it like it is" persona that his supporters value. And it all fits into the overall theme of his campaign, which is:
- Problem: We don't win anymore, which he's brought up in some form more than 20 times in debates.
- Narrative: Here are all the reasons, like immigrants, a weak military, Obamacare, or getting pushed around by other countries.
- Solution: Me. He spends a great deal of time talking about what he's good at.
Trump isn't the only candidate to do this. But Trump is the candidate who seems to "tell it like it is," because so much of what he says is rehashing the narrative in his own way. He's the one who makes you think you can logically figure out the right solution to these issues, and the fact that Washington and the media hasn't been able to means you should be angry.
The danger, though, is that the reconstructions of his narratives are almost always flawed and reactionary. But the narrative is so simple that it makes it seem like he's taught you the obvious way to deal with something like Syria or immigration reform — and in just a few seconds.
To make this point, I paraphrased everything he's said during the debates. I combined duplicate statements. And I reconstructed it by topic so we can see clearly how the narratives unfold. What you see below are all of Trump's statements from the previous eight debates (since he skipped out on one), his version of how we got here, and his solution.
Trump on Immigration
- We have a lot of bad people in this country from outside. Gangs all over the place. These are illegal immigrants. My first day as president, they're gone.
- I'm the reason we're talking about illegal immigration.
- Obama lets illegal immigrants ruin this country.
- Illegal immigration is costing us $200 billion a year.
- Mexican leaders are cunning. They send over the "bad ones" so they don't have to pay for them.
- There are millions of people trying to come into this country legally. It's not fair for us to let illegal immigrants stay.
- We can't provide a path to citizenship, because we are a country of laws.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country. But he was a nice guy.
- We need a 1,000-mile wall on the Mexican border, because we have natural barriers. We're going to let people in legally. Call it visas or permits. It's going to have a big, fat, beautiful door right in the middle.
- Walls work. Talk to Israel. I know how to build it, believe me.
- We should deport them. The great ones will come back to America, legally. If they have a criminal record, they're never coming back.
- To have a country, we have to assimilate. We have to speak English, not Spanish.
- Legal scholars say we shouldn't have to take care of babies born to women who illegally walk into this country nine months pregnant.
- I made immigration an issue in this election.
Trump on security
- I don't feel safe. It's not fear and terror. It's reality. We need security.
- We have a problem with Muslims. No one else wants to mention it.
- Political correctness is part of why we can't protect our country.
- Why weren't the people around the San Bernardino bombers more vigilant? I want to find out.
- The president is missing something. If he went into Syria and did "something" to Assad with force, we wouldn't have millions of displaced people.
- The Syrian refugees could be like the Trojan horse.
- There's something not good going on. I want a temporary ban of Muslims entering the country.
- I'm for the Second Amendment. The San Bernardino and Paris attacks wouldn't have been as bad if good guys had guns.
- I'd bring back waterboarding, and things worse than waterboarding. Because we've studied medieval times.
Trump on ISIS, Syria, and Russia
- We're not feared anymore. We get taken advantage of. We can't be the stupid country anymore.
- Obama and people in Washington are incompetent, because they're helping make Iran great with the Iran deal. It was amateurish because Obama isn't a real dealmaker.
- Real deal makers, like me, "grab them, hug them, kiss them," and get the right deal done.
- We have nothing after spending $2 trillion in the Middle East. I wish we'd spent it on Americans.
- We can't fight everyone at once. We have to get rid of ISIS. But we can't fight Assad, even though he's a bad guy, because then you're fighting Russia — and Russia is fighting ISIS.
- We're giving money to Syrian rebels. But we don't know who they are. They might be worse than Assad.
- Four years ago, I said "bomb the oil and take the oil." We didn't do that because of the environment. That's why ISIS has money.
- My focus is building up our military, strength, and borders. This way no one messes with us.
- I'm very militaristic. I know when to use force. Iraq in 2003 was not the right time.
- I know Putin. We were on 60 Minutes together. He can go destroy ISIS, since ISIS blew up a Russian airplane.
- Let ISIS and Syria fight each other, and we can pick up the remnants.
- We need to stop thugs from joining ISIS by getting our brilliant minds to stop them from using the internet.
- ISIS gets its money from the banking system and oil. I know banks better than anyone. We need to stop that.
Trump on China
- China is a problem. They are becoming a major force. They're taking advantage of us and taking our jobs.
- They're the reason we've lost 4 to 7 million jobs.
- China wants plants to built there, not in America.
- The Trans-Pacific Partnership was a "horrible" deal. It's so complex no one will read it, like Obamacare. It's designed to let China in the back door and take advantage of everyone.
- They purposely aren't solving the North Korea problem to taunt us. And North Korea is run by a madman with nuclear weapons.
- We need to put tariffs on goods coming in from China.
- We should use people like Carl Icahn to negotiate with China, not the political hacks we have now.
- We should make China deal with North Korea.
Trump on Obamacare
- Obamacare is a complete disaster.
- People on this stage agree: We're not going to let people die in the middle of the street.
- We are going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better. Free enterprise.
Trump on the economy
- Corporations are leaving because Democrats and Republicans can't make a deal.
- America owes $19 trillion.
- Companies are taking jobs outside the country because of our high corporate tax rates. We lose $2.5 trillion a year because of this.
- We are the highest-taxed country in the world.
- I will cut taxes for the middle class. The hedge fund guys will pay more. I know all of them. We've had a graduated tax system for years. It's not socialistic. Larry Kudlow loves my tax plan.
- We're reducing the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. This will bring manufacturing jobs back from Japan, China, Mexico.
- I have a tax plan to make China stop devaluing our currency. It's not that complicated.
- We're going to save Social Security and Medicare. I'd let the rich opt out of receiving Social Security.
- I would not raise the minimum wage.